What is it?
The 2011-model-year Audi Q7. In a bid to slash emissions and fuel consumption, while marginally improving performance, Ingolstadt has rung the changes under the big 4x4’s bonnet, and overhauled its transmission and four-wheel drive system too. There isn’t a single powertrain configuration carried over.
The most interesting addition to the Q7 range is a new petrol version powered by the same 3.0-litre V6 you’ll find in the S4 sports saloon. Fitted with two intercoolers, a supercharger and FSI direct injection, it produces 328bhp, as well as 325lb ft of torque between 2900- and 5300rpm.
As part of Audi’s engine downsizing program, this car replaces the 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 petrol Q7. A slightly lower-strung 268bhp version running the same mechanical package will sit beneath this model, as a replacement for the 3.6-litre V6.
This Q7 also benefits from a concept called ‘downspeeding’ as well as ‘downsizing’: that’s Audi shorthand for fitting a torquier engine and a taller set of gear ratios.
Along with all of its rangemates, it gets an eight-speed automatic gearbox capable of full transmission lock-up even at urban speeds. The ‘box has a broad spread of ratios, and allows the car to cruise at lower engine revs than it might otherwise, improving emissions and economy without sacrificing performance.
The new Q7 also has a more efficient, self-lubricating low range transfer case for that new transmission, as well as a heat exchanger designed to scavenge heat from the engine’s cooling system to warm the gearbox oil up to operating temperature more quickly.
All of which makes this particular V6 Q7 19 per cent more frugal than the V8 it replaces, as well as quicker to 62mph.
What’s it like?
Smooth, quiet, spacious and substantial – and, at the same time, responsive. Mildly sporty even.
That eight-speed box is programmed to change up and hold onto its higher gears if you keep the selector lever in ‘D’. At motorway cruising speed, with no more than 2200rpm on the tacho, you’ll find the engine hushed and totally vibration free. Excellent insulation from wind and road noise completes a close-to flawless performance on refinement.
Move the gear lever into ‘S’ mode and that ‘box will immediately kick down into sixth. As the engine revs climb, that engine pours forth a song that doesn’t have the multi-layered appeal of a proper V8, but is free from supercharger whine and not unpleasant to listen to.
Throttle response is excellent throughout this engine’s rev range, and there’s enough flexibility of performance to pile on speed with as much urgency as any two-and-a-half tonne SUV really requires.
Our test car’s brakes didn’t seem as strong: if there’s one thing a car this size has to do to inspire confidence, it’s stop, and our test car required a firmer stab of the pedal than we were strictly comfortable with.
Considering its size and heft, the Q7 handles well. It’s more firmly suspended than most luxury SUVs, and has good body control, resisting the body roll and understeer that so often afflicts cars of this type particularly well.
The trade-off is a restless, slightly fidgety motorway ride, which sacrifices cabin comfort in a way unbecoming of a car so spacious, upmarket and otherwise refined.
Should I buy one?
Depends if you can make room in your life for any petrol-powered luxury SUV. There’s no doubt that the new Q7 is a good one – quick enough, refined enough, and given the 25.5mpg return for our test car, just about economical enough. It’s even well priced: almost £10k cheaper than a Mercedes ML500.
Trouble is, that engine doesn’t offer the same burbling mechanical charm of a proper V8. In a big, luxury SUV, many expect a big ‘premium’ engine. Compact, downsized and efficient it may be, but some may simply feel a bit short-changed by a 3.0-litre V6.
Those who don’t may stumble over the fact that, for all the added economy that this car offers relative to the old 4.2-litre V8, the Q7 TFSI is still not quite justifiable as a ‘sensible’ option. Audi’s 2010-model-year 3.0-litre TDi Q7 has a brand new diesel engine that’ll top 38mpg. It’s cheaper to buy than the TFSI too.
Which is why we can’t help thinking that the 3.0 TDi will be the Q7 for most UK buyers, and this one of fringe interest only.